Artificial Intelligence

WKBW owner evaluating artificial intelligence test; Ch. 4 wins Bills-Broncos MNF rights

Everyone seems to be talking about AI – artificial intelligence – these days and fearing its impact in the future.

It is a big issue in the strikes that have shut down production in Hollywood.

So, it is no wonder that some alert viewers were concerned when they recently noticed a bug at the top of the screen during the 12:30 p.m. weekday newscast on WKBW-TV (Channel 7) with the words “AI-generated voice” used during voiceovers of some national stories.

I am told the AI testing by WKBW’s owner, E.W. Scripps Co., ended this week and whether the program should be resumed is being evaluated. The evaluation also will determine what any permanent policy will be.

But inquiring minds want to know: What is it all about? And is it a sign about the future of local news?

Sean McLaughlin, senior vice president of local media for Scripps, offered this explanation via a statement:

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“Scripps has been testing AI-generated voiceovers in roughly 40 markets since January. It’s primarily – but not exclusively – used in mornings with national overnight headlines. We absolutely do not use AI for journalism, not for reporting, nor writing.

“We are exploring emerging technology in a limited capacity to find the most efficient ways to allow our teams to focus on reporting local news in their communities. When we do use AI for voice overs, we are transparent with our viewers with a bug on the top left of the screen that lets them know the voice – which is a real person’s voice – is AI generated.”

“We have had zero feedback from viewers in any market. This is not displacing any employees and is not related to any organizational changes.”

I was a little confused by being told it is a real person’s voice. It was explained to me that the AI-generated voice is an employee’s synthesized voice, similar to Apple’s Personal Voice feature that artificially generates a voice similar to that of a real person. Then an application is trained to output the voice with a text prompt from national headlines.

McLaughlin’s explanations that no employee is being displaced and the program isn’t related to any organization changes appears to be designed to allay fears that AI can eventually replace reporters, writers or anchors.

I can’t foresee a world where local anchors and reporters can be replaced by AI since a good part of their roles is to engage in community activities and tell viewers how much they and their station care about them.

The slogans “2 on Your Side,” “We’re 4 Buffalo” and “Buffalo Strong” used by WGRZ-TV (Channel 2), WIVB (Channel 4) and WKBW illustrate the ways the local news departments demonstrate how much they care. An “AI” voiceover can’t do that.

But there are understandable fears that AI could eventually replace writers.

Let’s hope the Scripps evaluation of the program is transparent and eventually is made public.

WIVB has won the broadcast station rights to the Buffalo Bills game versus the Denver Broncos Nov. 13, to be simulcast on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” Games on cable are sold to broadcast stations in the markets of the participating teams.

The Bills-Denver MNF game isn’t on ABC. The team’s opener against the New York Jets on Sept. 11 is being simulcast on ESPN and ABC, which means ABC affiliate WKBW is carrying it.

Christine Baranski won’t be coming to Western New York this year, after all.

The actress’ scheduled induction into the Buffalo Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame on Sept. 21 has become a casualty of the writers’ and actors’ strike.

Even if the SAG-AFTRA strike is settled, the Western New York native will have to be on location in Europe to film a movie that has been delayed because of the strike. Her induction has been postponed until 2024.

The BBA announced that anyone who already has purchased tickets for the event can get a refund if Baranski’s absence makes them less likely to want to attend. 

Melody Thomas Scott, who has played Nikki Newman on the CBS daytime soap “The Young and the Restless” since 1979, will appear Aug. 15 in Jamestown for two one-night-only fundraising events for the Lucille Ball Little Theatre of Jamestown. Her appearance hasn’t been impacted by the strikes, a spokesperson for the events said.

“An opportunity like this has never happened before for Little Theatre,” said Holly Weston, board president of the Lucille Ball Little Theatre, in a release. “A veteran television actress who has been part of our daytime TV viewing lives for decades has reached out to us and offered to come to Jamestown and present a show and a reception – all at her own expense and with all proceeds benefitting the Lucille Ball Little Theatre.” Weston added, “At a time when so many nonprofits are struggling with the financial aftereffects of the pandemic, we have Melody to help us through it, and we couldn’t be more grateful.”

“Always Young & Restless: An Evening with Melody Thomas Scott” will be presented from 7:30 to 9 p.m. The actress will “reflect on her career as she shares personal photos and video clips of some of her most memorable Hollywood moments while interacting with the audience and answering their questions.”

She also will autograph copies of her memoir, “Always Young and Restless: My Life On and Off America’s #1 Daytime Drama.”

The book will be available in the lobby before the event, with the proceeds benefiting the theater.

“The VIP Experience with Melody Thomas Scott” includes a ticket to the theater event and a special gala reception in her honor from 9:30 to 11 p.m. The package is limited to 65 tickets at $150.

“I’ve admired Lucille Ball my entire life and am so looking forward to raising money for the Lucille Ball Little Theatre,” said Scott in a release. “It’s a great opportunity to both support the arts and honor Lucy, a legendary Jamestown native who’s kept the world laughing for more than 70 years. I always enjoy spending time with my fans who have been so loyal to me and ‘Nikki’ all these years.”


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